July and August 2012 - As a part of the efforts to promote Malaysian tourism, industry, culture, education and the Second Home program, Mr. Yubazlan Yusof, Charge d'Affairs of the Embassy of Malaysia, Belgrade gave the following interview for the July/August 2012 edition of the prominent Serbian Profit Magazine:
1. Your Excellency, how do you feel in our country and what kind of impressions have you acquired of Belgrade and Serbia during your stay here?
Although I have come to Serbia relatively recently, I am amazed with the beauty and potential of your country. Although I am coming from a different climate conditions both me I my family find changing of seasons and continental climate rather pleasant. People are warm, friendly and open, which is one thing our two nations share in common. Serbia is a developing country, same as Malaysia, which poses great opportunities for further strengthening of bilateral cooperation.
Belgrade is one of the most beautiful cities in Western Balkans. Its location, as well as the location of the entire country, is, for the lack of a better word, excellent. Influences of the both western and eastern cultures can be seen anywhere and people are nice, well-educated and definitely represent one of the biggest potentials of your country.
2. Since when have you been a Chargé d’Affaires a.i. to Serbia and what did your diplomatic career look like prior to your arrival in our country?
I arrived to Serbia on 11th December 2011. I joined the diplomatic service in 1996 and had been posted to Peru and Japan since then.
3. When did diplomatic relations between Serbia and Malaysia initiate? How were they in the past, and how they are today? How many Malaysians live in Serbia?
Malaysia was interested in joining the Non-Aligned Movement in sixties, which played in important part in establishing of diplomatic relations between Malaysia and Serbia that followed in 1967. Malaysia and the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) signed the Agreement on Economic and Technical Cooperation in 1969. The two countries also signed the Agreement on Air Traffic in 1987 as well as the Agreement on Avoidance of Double Taxation in 1990. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) and later the Republic of Serbia are legal successors of those agreements.
The diplomatic relations between Malaysia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia were discontinued in 1992 and reestablished in 2003. Malaysia accredited its ambassador to Serbia in November 2003 and opened its embassy in Belgrade in February 2004. The Embassy of the Republic of Serbia in Jakarta, Indonesia, is accredited to Malaysia on non-residential basis.
I am proud to inform that bilateral relations between the two countries are going for the better. Minister of Foreign Affairs of Malaysia participated in the Additional Official Non-Aligned Movement Commemorative Ministerial Meeting held in Belgrade from 4th – 7th September 2010 and Malaysia was one of 99 UN countries that supported H.E. Mr. Vuk Jeremic bid this year.
I am also proud to inform that economic bilateral cooperation between Malaysia and Serbia was not affected much by the global economic crises and shows positive trend.
Bilateral trade exchange in 2011 was around USD 70 Million, which is 9% increase comparing to 2010, despite global economic crisis. The most common products exported and imported include natural, synthetic and recycled rubber, office machines and information processing equipment, raw materials, telecommunication equipment and agricultural semi products such as solid vegetable fats and oils. The bilateral trade exchange does not seem that high, but there are plenty of business transactions that are not included in statistics because most of bilateral exchange between Malaysia and Serbia is done through other EU countries such as Italy and Germany.
It is my firm belief that there is plenty of room for improvement of bilateral economic relations between Malaysia and Serbia and that we have to work together and hard for the bilateral economic cooperation to reach its full potential.
4. Are there, and to what extent, Malaysia businessmen who are interested in investing in Serbia? In which ways do you represent Serbia as an interesting investment destination?
Although I have come to Serbia recently, it is already clear to me that your country offers great investment opportunities. With the steady political course Serbia has taken with its EU integration process, it is apparent that with its infrastructure, geo-strategic position and hard-working, well-trained and skillful labor force, Serbia is a country that has a great potential to attract foreign investors. However, it is also not a secret that your country is facing difficult political challenges as well as successful completion of reforms that would facilitate business operations.
Business communities worldwide share one thing in common – they are very careful about where to invest. The only solution to this problem is to create the atmosphere of trust and to persuade businessmen that besides possibility to make a profit, Serbia can also offer a stable and predictable business climate, a minimum risk business environment. It is a process that sometime takes longer, but with the joint efforts put by both sides, the results will surely come.
In In which industries are companies from our countries are able to cooperate?
Foreign trade exchange between Malaysia and Serbia and cooperation between Malaysian and Serbian companies already exists, especially regarding office stationeries, automatic processing equipment, electronic and telecommunication equipment, raw materials and semi products of various types, natural and synthetic rubber, furniture etc. Also, I am proud to inform that new initiatives for cooperation have been emerging especially in the field of agriculture. Many Serbian food processing companies have taken interest in Halal certification, which is a prerequisite for exporting food and food products to Malaysian market. The number of Serbian companies interested in Halal market has been increasing over the past couple of years as well as the number of Serbian companies interested in participation in MIHAS, which is the largest food and beverage fair in the world, held each year in Kuala Lumpur. As in many other parts of the world, organic and healthy food is in high demand in Malaysia, which presents good opportunity for Serbian food companies to find a niche. The exchange of technology and knowledge is also one of the fields with plenty of potential for cooperation strengthening.
6. What kind of cooperation exists in the sphere of culture and tourism between Serbia and Malaysia and what are the plans for this field?
Even though the Embassy of Malaysia does not have a cultural department yet, our mission is putting great effort to promote Malaysian culture in Serbia. I am very pleased to say that the embassy’s cultural troupe exists for 8 years already and participates in every major town festivals and carnivals as well as other events where we are invited to perform Malaysian traditional dances. At the Malaysian Charity Bazaar that took place on 26th May, the Embassy included a movie showcase to introduce the public to the latest Malaysian movies, as well as the movies that illustrate the origins of modern Malaysian culture and unique cultural heritage and diversity that originates from the mixture of Malay, Chinese and Indian culture and the way they were influenced by western civilizations. The mission has been taking very proactive approach to public diplomacy activities and it is our intention to do so in the future as well.
Also, Malaysian government has invested a lot in tourism over the past 20 years and I can proudly say that Malaysia has been put on the world tourism map as one of the top tourist destinations in Asia. “Malaysia truly Asia” motto reflects the essence of what Malaysia has to offer and signifies that by visiting Malaysia one can really experience the whole Asia in one place. Malaysia can also offer all the best of the modern world, including first class resorts and service that meets the highest standards of modern tourism.
Unfortunately, the visa regime between Malaysia and Serbia still exists, but obtaining Malaysian visa has been facilitated as much as possible and features very fast visa request processing and minimal visa fees.
7. How do you spend your free time in Belgrade? Do you have any hobbies, places you like to visit and can you specify you main personal impression re Serbia?
Belgrade is truly remarkable city with a lot of nice places to visit. Although I do not have a lot of spare time, whenever it is possible I enjoy horseback riding and traveling.
8. How are your plans after the Serbia?
I have been presented already with two options after my mandate here expires – the first is to go back to Kuala Lumpur and the second is to be posted to another country. Both options are fine and I am ready to accept any of those two options.
9. How would you introduce your country for our readers in order to attract them to visit it, go there to work, live or so on?
Malaysia is a place of great contrast and that is why most of people who visited Malaysia usually come back. What is unique about Malaysia is its cultural and geographical diversity that makes my country a very special and unique tourist destination in Asia. It is also home to some of the most beautiful beaches and resorts in the world. With its equatorial climate, the white sandy beaches of Malaysia attract tourist from all over the world the whole year round. Besides that, Malaysia also has one of the oldest rainforests in the world, amazing coral reefs, but also a home of the highest mountain peak in south East Asia, standing at 4200 meters above the sea level.
But what makes Malaysia truly special is the mixture of Malay, Chinese, Indian and Indigenous culture, influenced over the last five centuries by west European countries such as Great Britain, Netherlands and Portugal. The different races practice different beliefs. Islam, being the official religion is the most widely practiced religion in Malaysia. Other religions that are quite widely practiced are Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism. The cultural diversity reflects the rich and specific historical heritage, which can be seen in abundance of cultural monuments and traditional architecture.
As the contrast, Malaysia is home of the most prominent modern structures in the world. The Petronas Twin Towers are still the world’s tallest twin towers and second and third tallest singular towers standing at 452 meters high, are one of the structures that has helped put Malaysia on the world map. There is also a KL tower, standing at 421 meters high, ranked as the tallest tower in Asia, Sepang Formula 1 grand prix circuit and many more.
Another pleasant thing about Malaysia is its peacefulness. First of all the country has no serious army or military confrontations. It does not have any terror or people who are seeking independence from Malaysia. In a smaller scale, you don’t come across people fighting or even quarreling. Our government has launched “Malaysia, My Second Home” program for foreign pensioners to move to Malaysia and enjoy the benefits of affordable and peaceful living.
For all those reasons, foreigners, whether they came as tourist, students or to work for abundance of Malaysian or international companies in Malaysia, feel at home. Malaysia offers dynamic business climate, truly international working and studying environment, people are open, warm, friendly and always willing to help and socialize. What most visitors find very convenient is the fact that almost everyone in Malaysia speaks English. I am also proud to inform that Malaysian government put a lot of effort in developing tourism to make Malaysia a tourist destination equally attractive to young people, students, pensioners and backpackers as well as to the middle and high class families.